You Can Go To Hell…If You Want To

March 28, 2011

(Sunday morning, this post was born prematurely and unfinished.  I hate when I click the wrong publish date.  Sorry about that.)

I don’t know if the recent debate on heaven and hell is finally dying down.

Some people say the especially firey debate may represent a permanent divide in evangelicalism that may never heal.  Oh no!  All that Christian unity we’ve been working on with each other, down the drain!

I chimed in a few weeks ago and told you that I want to be a universalist.  Like a lot of people hoping for a nicer, gentler, hell-free Christianity, I want everyone to get to the good place.  I got an avalanche of responses.

But, although I want to be a universalist, I’ve got to tell you that I still believe in hell.  You know the oldest protest to the idea of hell.  “How could a loving God send people to hell?” Yeah, I think that’s the completely the wrong question to be asking.  In fact, I’d say the question we should be asking is, “How could a loving God not send people to hell?”

Bad As I Wanna Be

The first reason I am so sure of the existance of hell: I take a look around.  Not at all the natural disasters and wars and things which people call “hell on earth.”  I look at the choices people make.  People tend to make really stupid choices…repeatedly.  People choose to do things that they know will cause hell in their lives.  The worst kind of hell is the kind people create for themselves.  Some people seem to only be happy when they are miserable.

That’s where we’re wrong about hell.  We think people have no choice in whether they go to hell.  People choose to go to hell every day of their lives.  People choose to treat their spouses like crap.  People choose to abuse themselves.  People choose to be greedy or lazy or vengeful or unloving.  If your life is hell, chances are you created at least part of it.  Every time we resist God a little bit, we create a delightful little slice of hell.  I have no doubt that God will not be shoving people through the doors of hell.  People will be lined up to get in, like Disney World, (which may actually be the first circle of hell.)

Paul said in Romans that where there is no law, we are judged by the law on our hearts.  Everyone makes a conscious choice.

Would a Loving God Do That?

“Would a loving God really send people to hell?” Sounds like an airtight question.  Either there is no hell, or God is not love.  Except every time we ask that question, we ignore the laws of love.

People have come up with thousands of love stories.  Maybe millions.  Nearly every story has a love interest.  Most love stories have the same conflict that drives them: someone is in love, and can’t make the person love them back. Not even genies can make people fall in love.  They usually have to say that at the beginning of the story, just so no one gets any crazy ideas.

People keep writing the same stories over and over again because our lives are driven by loving someone, and not being able to make them love us.  Even God has chosen to not make us love Him.  It’s kind of a law of love.  It can be given, but it can’t be taken from someone.

Calvinists think that God’s grace is irresistable (but only to some people). I don’t.  People resist God all the time.  If God has the ability to make us love Him, He’s not using it.  And if He’s not forcing himself on us in this life, He’s not going to make us spend eternity with Him in the next.  How satisfying would it be to God to have everyone in heaven, but He knows that no one really had a choice?  A truly loving God that craves real love will go to the ends of the earth to earn our love, but will still let all his little creatures go to hell if they please.

What the Hell?

A lot of people defend hell by trying to say that our pitiful human brains just can’t comprehend God’s concept of “love,” which includes sending people to hell.  You don’t have to do that.  God plays by the same rules we do.  You can’t make someone fall in love with you.

And I don’t think that just because someone ends up in hell, they’re going to suddenly fall in love with Jesus.  Just like scaring people into faith with the threat of hell may sound a little…disingenuous, how genuine is any “love” going to sound coming from someone trying to escape hell?

That’s it.  What do you think?  Would a loving God send people to hell, or let them go to hell?  Can love really win if it forces us to love God back?

43 responses to You Can Go To Hell…If You Want To

  1. That was a hell of a post!

    I deserve to go to hell! (really)

    But because of Christ, I will not. So I pray that it will be as thinly populated as the Lord sees fit.

    Thanks, Matt.
    Steve Martin recently posted..Can you choose God- and choose not to sin

  2. I’m with you … I don’t want anyone to suffer now or in the afterlife.
    But I also agree that people choose hell all the time … so if there’s a hell and if those folks go there, they aren’t sent by God, they choose to go there.

    But there is another large group of people that I have issue with God about. The ones that never heard of Jesus for various reasons and/or the ones that are in cultures that oppose him … why should they suffer in hell forever?
    Janet Oberholtzer recently posted..Help – My Head is Not Screwed on Straight!

    • I agree with you on the not wanting anyone to suffer.
      And those who have never heard of Jesus for whatever reason – my understanding (and I hope it is right) is that all people will have a chance to make a choice. But I’m not God, so I don’t know how or when He will give that chance.

  3. I want to play a little devil’s advocate.

    In fairness to Calvinists, they believe that no one can resist God’s love once God has called them and changed their heart. They believe that many people do resist God’s “general” grace, but God’s “specific” grace is irresistible. A well thought out calvinists does believe in man’s choice, but man will always choose hell or not God, unless they experience that “specific” grace.
    Jeremy @ Confessions of a Legalist recently posted..Flash Mob

  4. Calvinists actually believe in irresitible grace, not irresitible love. And its only irresitible to the elect. Those who are not elect have no problem resisting it. This doctrine stems from the doctrine of total depravity. If you believe that man is dead in sin and cannot choose God, then irresitible grace makes perfect sense. If you believe that man’s free will has not been impeded by his sinful nature, then the arminian doctrine of prevenient grace would make sense. It all depends on your view of sin and its effects. I’m personally a calvinist because of the doctrine of total depravity and election. I think its what Jesus taught. I think its evident in the world we live in today. As you mentioned, we see people creating hell for themselves right now. And no one seems to be able to create heaven, even Charlie Sheen. Our job is to proclaim the Gospel and it will free people from their own personal hell, as well as the one that is to come.

    • Brian … I’m curious, you believe in total depravity and election … and you say you are one of the elect. I’ve been searching for someone that believes like you, but isn’t one of the elect … have you ever met anyone like that?
      Janet Oberholtzer recently posted..Help – My Head is Not Screwed on Straight!

      • Janet – Since there was very little context for your question, I will answer a couple of different ways. First off, yes. There are plenty of people who know the bible and yet don’t believe it. Just google something like “atheist who knows the bible.”

        You could also search out a popular 80’s rock icon and ask him, but alas, he is dead. Bon Scott of the group AC/DC sang that he was on a “Highway to Hell”. Using reverse logic, you could surmize that he knew that there was a road to heaven, but he was on the wrong road.

        There are many others who know the truth, yet do not believe it. I’m sure you could find some. But, if you are just looking for someone who simply believes like I do, I would suggest finding a good reformed church in your neighborhood. If that doesn’t help and you would like to learn what the Bible teaches about election and depravity, I could recommend some reading for you.

        On a side note, I read your story on your blog and was very inspired with your ability to overcome circumstances. God bless.

        • I don’t think you really understood the question. The question was – do you know anyone who believes the “doctrines of grace” and yet believes that they are not elect, and thus, damned to hell because of their failure to believe. In other words, they believe in TULIP, but they especially believe the Limited aspect, and they are not part of it.

          • Luke exIFB – Yes I understood the question. The answer I gave Janet still applies. You call it doctrines of grace, I refer to it as standard biblical theology. I don’t think the Bible teaches anything else. Calvin didn’t invent TULIP, he just gets associated with it because he was a prolific writer and a good theologian. But, let’s look at the question behind the question (Bell speak). Can someone believe the right things and still go to hell? Now that is an interesting question. And the only way I know to answer it right off is by asking another question…what do you mean by believe? Is belief just something you verbally consent to without ever changing your lifestyle? Is true belief saying a prayer to get your “ticket to heaven”? Or is it something more than that? I don’t think belief is just a verbal affirmation. I think belief goes deeper than that. Belief, true belief shakes you to the core. And, just to tie this up, belief (faith) is a gift from God. We can’t conjure it up. It is God who does the saving, not ourselves. Take care brother.

    • lol I was wondering why this popped up in my feed yesterday. I hate it when I prematurely post!

      I don’t have much to add to what Brian says here. I believe all men rush headlong for hell, and God in his grace has chosen some to become part of the “elect.” Why does he choose some and not others? The theological answer is that it’s not God’s love that dictates his actions, but his glory. Is that answer personally satisfying? No, but I believe it anyway because I haven’t found a better explanation as of yet.

      Janet: I have a friend who was raised in the church but has since fallen away. She says she tries to believe in Christ, but her logic is preventing her to do so. She doesn’t believe in Calvinism because she doesn’t entirely believe in God anymore, but she says that maybe the reason why she has trouble believing is because she’s not part of the “elect.”
      Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Guard your heart with all diligence

      • Wow, I’ve never heard of anyone surmising that they themselves are not part of the elect.

      • I would tell your friend that just like Paul in the bible…he too couldn’t believe in Jesus and being so mad that other would, he would kill them….but one day God had other plans for his life and interupted his life with out his permisson on the way to dimascus and Jesus revealed himself in a bright light (much like what happens in our hearts when we hear and believe the Gospel for the first time) and ask paul , why he was persucuting him, and at that moment paul believed and was saved.

        The point is that God is in charge. In galatians, paul also says that God set him apart from birth….so in a sense…God let Paul make horrible choices for lack of knowledge in christ…for most of his life untill God says it was time to save him….

        So tell your friend that she can’t tell God that she is not elect….in her telling him that, she is already questioning something in her heart she is feeling so….she might very well be elect after all….God is still mabye working with her…

        Also its important to note…some people think that just because we think reformed…and elect…that only a “small portion of people get saved”….that is not true at all! We believe that there is room for God’s grace for the whole world!!! and everyone that we come across in our life should be and aspect of God’s elect!!! That is why we share the Gospel with everyone and their momma!!! lol…..let God deal with the hearts!!! Oh happiness there is grace enough for us and the whole human race!!!

        • Right, and as “Reformed” as I am, I still believe that whoever is looking for God will find him. He who asks, is answered; he who seeks finds; he who knocks at the door will have it opened to him. I don’t really care whether or not a person asks of their own volition or if they ask because they have been “chosen.” I believe that if she continues to try to seek God out, that she will find Him, and that’s what I’ve told her.

          My personal beliefs about election don’t change the way I minister to others. I still have to love God, love others, and give a reason for the hope that is within me- and that’s what I intend to do.
          Jo_of_TSN recently posted..Guard your heart with all diligence

      • I don’t believe that God chooses the “elect” I believe that man “chooses” to be elect. God gave us free will and there for the ability to choose Him. Many do not choose him and many do. But even for those who choose God they will still stumble and fall, and have to pick their selves back up and choose Him once again.

  5. Good morning, Matt,

    Your postings keep getting better and better. This is one of your best.

    Your best lines this morning:

    “Most love stories have the same conflict that drives them: someone is in love, and can’t make the person love them back. Not even genies can make people fall in love. They usually have to say that at the beginning of the story, just so no one gets any crazy ideas.

    “People keep writing the same stories over and over again because our lives are driven by loving someone, and not being able to make them love us. Even God has chosed to not make us love Him. It’s kind of a law of love. It can be given, but it can’t be taken from someone”.

    You give me a great deal to think about: especially your idea that I can’t make someone else love me… Then why does God?

    What have I done to make Him love me? What have any of us done? There’s not a Teddy Bear in the lot of us.

    Does God love without reason? Is this some kink in His nature, to love the unloveable? Yet, God is love–whatever that means.

    I know the song, Jesus Loves Me This I Know but that is way too deep for me. Most of the time I have trouble believing that God even tolerates me.

    I get lost among all the really smart people who comment on your blog–but I do have an interesting view from here on the sideline.

    John Cowart

    • John, I think you struggle with God’s love the same way some of the biggest saints ever did. Have you heard what is in Mother Teresa’s journal? She was constantly afraid God was mad at her. Who could be mad at Mother Teresa?? But we all fall for the same lie – that God is not love. True – we can’t make him love us. That’s why our righteousness is like rags. But He loves us just the same…even puts up with us!

  6. Anyone who believes the Holy Bible to be true has to believe in hell and and loving God who does not want anyone to go there. For anyone who is really seeking and has serious questions like this, I recommend they read “Letters To A Skeptic” by Gregory and Edward Boyd (link to my review of it: http://ourstack.blogspot.com/2010/12/letters-from-skeptic-son-wrestles-with.html) and “66 Love Letters From God To You by Dr. Larry Crabb” (link to my review of this one: http://ourstack.blogspot.com/2011/03/66-love-letters-by-dr-larry-crabb-is.html).
    Karen, author of “My Funny Dad, Harry” recently posted..A Memorable Neighbor Who Scared Us Away Writers Workshop

  7. Great post! A few points.

    – God is just. If he said he is going to send people to eternal torment, hell or separation (we’ll get to that in a minute), then he has to or he is a liar.

    – He has made a perfect way for an imperfect human to enter the Kingdom. It is called faith in Jesus, and nothing else. Everyone has the ability to have faith, or it wouldn’t be fair, now would it? Do note, that faith is not belief. Belief is knowing about someone, faith is knowing someone.

    – Hell was created for the fallen angels, aka Satan and the demons. I am not sure if it is eternal torment (which I was always taught), or the simple destruction of a soul. I have read a few accounts by folks that experienced hell, and they all described it as a dark, cold, and lonely place – a tomb. (Remember Paul experienced what is called the third heaven, so it is certainly a biblical possibility.) And when we see lives brought back to life in the Bible and in some contemporary accounts, no one likes where they have been. We can be pretty certain through Scripture that Hell is an eternal separation from the love of God.

    – The idea of hell on earth is a fable. Those that were persecuted, according to James, were to take joy in their trials. During the famines and even the plagues, none of the writers used the word hell, or even alluded to it. I think Americans don’t like any type of suffering, punishment or accountability.

    Those are just some thoughts I had. Here is the only actual point I want to make. Paul said that we are to be led by the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that we must know and recognize. If our religious principals are only based on cognitive understanding of the Word of God (believing), then we are led by intellect, and not the Spirit. Paul also said that we must discern these things, but most of church is content to regurgitate what they have been fed by others. They believe it because it fits with their own thoughts, ideas and feelings. This is emotional religion, and still not being led by the Spirit (living by faith). If we can’t say that we hear God, how then can we say we are led by the Spirit? It is disingenuous.

    If we don’t know that much, how will we know about Heaven or Hell, much less be able to teach about it?

    And finally, the Holy Spirit assures us of our salvation, and the fruit of our lives should eventually reflect the seed that has been planted.
    David recently posted..Hearts Desires vs What I Want

    • Good points – I didn’t mean that we literally create hell on earth. But like our earthly lives are a “shadow of the things to come,” we choose hell-like actions and thoughts, which are a shadow of the things to come. We can choose to make our lives more heavenly, more peaceful, more just, more righteous, or more hellish.

  8. I agree with you, and I think this is one of my biggest issues with Reformed Theology. How would forcing us to love Him, or precluding us from love Him, satisfy God at all? If God really does make every single decision within creation, and there is no true autonomy, then all of existence is just God talking to Himself.
    David N. recently posted..Like Little Children

    • “If God really does make every single decision within creation, and there is no true autonomy, then all of existence is just God talking to Himself.”

      That’s been my contention, but I’ve never been able to put it so well into words. I may have to quote you if you don’t mind. Excellent.
      katdish recently posted..Getting dirty

    • David – I think where you may be having a problem is in the thought that God needs to be “satisfied”. God did not create us because he needed us or anything at all. We were created in his image, soley for our benefit. That’s why when peope reject him by worshipping the creation rather than the creator, it is such a big deal.

      Two problems in man’s anthropological view is that either we exalt man into the place of God or that we lower man to make him equal to animals. We must know what God says in regards to man. God is supreme and since he created everything, he has every right to do as he wishes (Read the Book of Job). We don’t believe these things because they are what we like or what we want, but because they are true. And they are true, regardless of what we believe. We properly mirror God when we embrace the truth and proclaim it.

      • I’m anthropomorphizing God because we have 66 inspired books that do the same thing.

        Scripture talks over and over about God desiring our love and our worship, but not forcing us to comply. He wants it to be genuine. Isn’t that the entire point of Hosea? As a picture of God’s relationship to His people, Hosea marries a prostitute but doesn’t force her to stay when she wants to cheat on him because he wants her love to be genuine.

        I have to believe being made in His image tells me something about His relational inclinations. He is described as a father and a husband (among other things), and as I am both of those things also, I can’t imagine satisfaction coming from forcing my wife or daughter to love me. That isn’t love, as Matt explained in this post.
        David N. recently posted..Like Little Children

        • DavidN – I’m not disagreeing with you in one sense. I agree that love is a verb (as DC Talk said, how’s that for old school?). The question is how do we become regenerate? Is it an act of man or an act of God? The Bible is quite clear that we are all dead in our sin. What does a dead man do? Nothing. How does he love? He can’t, he’s unable. Romans 3 says that no one seeks God, no one does good. So the question is not a question of God’s desire, but a question of our ability. You must have your heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh. I think Christians choose to love God and He gets much glory from that.

  9. I think hell is the separation of anything from God; the permanent separation from the ultimate love.

    We can create something like that on earth but not in its profound entirety. The only thing that keeps this universe ticking is God’s love. Even a hardened satanist still feels some joy in seeing someone he/she knows; happiness to some extent.

    Imagine having no love at all. I can’t.

    This might be a point of view: http://ishouldwritemore.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/is-hell-real/

    love
    kleinfrans recently posted..Heckling the groom

  10. First of all, great post, even if it was initially premature!

    I do agree that if we can bring heaven to earth by doing God’s will, we can create our own little hell by saying “no” to God. Hell is the natural consequence of saying “no,” isn’t it?

    Not having read the complete Calvniist doctrine, but attending a Calvinist church, I am not sure that Calvinist doctrine states that God forces his elect to love Him. My understanding is that He breaks through our blindness and deafness and stone hearts toward God created by sin, gives us faith and a heart of flesh so that we can accept His grace and be saved. I believe that love and devotion is something that is a natural consequence to one who has been forgiven much. And a natural consequence of receiving the Holy Spirit, of which one of the fruits is love.

    If I am totally off track on my understanding of Calvinist theology, I suppose I will have to grab the book my husband bought last year that describes it in excruciating detail and read it for myself. If you were being flippant about the issue of God forcing Calvinists to love Him, I blame husband-induced sleep deprivation and lack of coffee for my lack of discernment ;-).
    tandemingtroll recently posted..Cute Kid Quote of the Day

  11. Yeah I don’t think God sends people to hell, I think we choose it.

    nicodemusatnite.com
    Charlie Chang recently posted..New blog coming soon

    • Hi Charlie Chang,

      Forgive me for sneaking into communication with you, but I can’t figure out how to post a comment on your blog site.

      My first comment on your new blog idea is to let people comment; I’ve tried for several weeks to comment on your posts–including that Bouncy Castle thing–and nothing I say seems to get through.

      Anyhow, Good luck with your new Money Talks, But All It Says To Me Is Good-Bye blog.

      John Cowart

  12. Powerful Matt, thanks for sharing!

  13. This post is refreshing, simply because I agree with you.

    No, but really, besides that fact, I have never found the idea of a loving God and an eternal hell to be in conflict with one another.

    Some might refer to this as a dichotomy, but I am comforted by knowing the God I serve is neither limited nor simplistic.

    Somewhere in the mystery of not knowing every detail, I find a Holy God worth worshiping.
    Modern Reject recently posted..Top 10 Christian Phrases I Never Want to Hear Again

  14. God is consistent and will always honour our free will. And if our free will has chosen to reject God, then we will receive the logical end point of that, a place completely bereft of any of God’s goodness. Sounds like hell to me.
    Andrew recently posted..A fools’ paradise

  15. “People choose to go to hell every day of their lives.”

    Matt – this is probably the best post you’ve written. Bar none. While I still haven’t gotten around to reading the source material (“Love Wins”) that sparked this rabid flame war about hell (oh, the irony…), this post…dude, this could be taken completely out of the context of that debate and stand on its own merit.

    Amazing.

    I think we need another Skype date. You make me think incredibly deep thoughts that I want to share.
    Sonny Lemmons recently posted..Evangelegalism

  16. I like what Tim Keller says about this issue – that hell is a display of justice.
    Jeff Goins recently posted..How to Write Scannable Content for Your Blog

  17. Hello,

    I’m a first-time poster but not a first-time reader. 😉 I just wanted to add to the general consensus of what a marvelous post this is. And kudos to the thoughtful responses to it.

    Personally, I believe God has given us free will to choose Him or not. And just because He knows our future does not diminish our freedom or lessen the love He has for us as individuals. One reason I believe we have free will is that He holds us responsible for the choices we make. It would neither be love nor just if He held us responsible for something in which we had no power to change. So, yes, He sends us to Hell for the choices made and, yes, lets us go to Hell for the Choice we made.

  18. Okay. So, I tell you, you have the choice to do A or B. If you choose A (in this case, Jesus), you’ll spend eternity in bliss. If you choose B, no matter what your reasons for doing so, you will spend eternity in utter torment.
    How in the world do you call this free will?

    Where the fear of hell is lodged in the back of your brain, there can be no free will.

    Please, if I’m missing something, let me know, help me understand, because this has bothered me for quite a while.

  19. I saw pergatory when I wasn’t thinking about god. I saw a man in a white robe and crown leading a child up the stairway to heaven. God forced me into believing in him. He showed me what pergatory looks like and in my opinion it is hell…Lying in wait for god knows how long with your eyes open watching people step on you as they go up. I have tried telling people god sent a message and it is he is real and dangerous and punishes people. He hasn’t spelled out anything in writing only in pictures. I have been plagued by unfortuinate coincidences in my own blog like writing about earthquakes and then having them happen on the same day. I am currently praying god punishes people for having done so much damage to the world and the people, plants and animals in it. I do think I am quite likely going to hell even though for the most part since my ressurection all I have tried to do is make people thank god and show him more love and respct than they currently are doing. by that I mean treat the planet better and the people and things in it…Not jsut singing a song of praise. I am not sure what the rules are and I think a loving god punishes people and himself because ultimately the blame lies on him for everything we think and do. I know god has the power to create dreams, shape thoughts and do anything he wants to…I just wish people would give me the respect some show Jesus. I died and saw him and the stairway. He has taken my hand and I have flown through the clouds. I write this story a lot in athiest forums and still people choose not to believe in an almighty and disrespect him and endanger peoples lives in the process. He is fast and cruel. He may love us the day we are born but after that I think for the most part we make him ashamed of us…We give his life purpose though…We give him something to do. God creates everything even atheists…In order for him to punish possibly or provwe himself gradually. Anyone good blog. A loving god gave a warning it was me. I wrote to the illuminati and BBC and everyone and told them. they called me crazy. Now they are the ones begging for god to forgive them for not believing. It goes to show. If a man says he is god and paints a portrait of hell…you might want to consider showing him more respect than that of a begger.

  20. If our religious principals are only based on cognitive understanding of the Word of God (believing), then we are led by intellect, and not the Spirit. – Hell was created for the fallen angels, aka Satan and the demons. I agree with you on the not wanting anyone to suffer.

  21. Again with the posting on this really late. Ah well.

    This reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”. A lot.

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